A federal grand jury has indicted 13 members of the Internet hacking group Anonymous for allegedly carrying out cyber-attacks against websites worldwide in an effort to shut them down.
The members of Anonymous are accused of targeting governments, trade associations, law firms, financial institutions and other institutions that oppose the philosophy of Anonymous to make all information free for everyone, regardless of copyright laws or national security considerations.
The indictment filed in federal court in Alexandria, Va., says victims of the attacks range from the Recording Industry Association of America, Visa, Mastercard, Bank of America and others.
From September 2010 to January 2011, Anonymous members participated in a campaign they called Operation Payback, using software known as the Low Orbit Ion Cannon to flood websites with huge amounts of Internet traffic to damage them.
The targets were chosen for their stand on piracy and copyright enforcement after the discontinuation of Pirate Bay, and the financial institutions later for ending transactions that allowed funds to be raised for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, including Amazon and U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman.
The 13 "planned and executed a coordinated series of cyber-attacks against victim websites by flooding those websites with a huge volume of irrelevant Internet traffic with the intent to make the resources on the websites unavailable to customers and users of those websites," the indictment said.
Those named in the indictment were Dennis Owen Collins, Jeremy Leroy Heller, Chen Zhiwei, Joshua Phy, Ryan Russel Gubele, Robert Audubon Whitfield, Anthony Tadros, Geoffrey Kenneth Commander, Austen Stamm, Timothy Robert McLain, Wade Carl Williams and Thomas Bell. All are from the U.S. and in their 20s with the exception of Geoffrey Kenneth Commander, a 65-year-old man from Hancock, New Hampshire, and Dennis Owen Collins, a man from Toledo, Ohio born in 1960.
Anonymous is a loose-knit group of hacker activists, or "hacktivists," who have taken credit for scores of online attacks over the past few years.
The attacks range from the nuisance-like -- the FBI and Justice Department websites were back up within a few hours -- to the truly damaging involving the loss of data and the exposure of private financial information.